Disillusionment of Patriotism in Crane’s “Do Not Weep Maiden, For War is Kind” and Owen’s “Dulce Et Decorum Est”

Anup Joshi
Disillusionment of Patriotism in Crane’s “Do Not Weep Maiden, For War is Kind” and Owen’s “Dulce Et Decorum Est”

Patriotism is generally considered as the love for one’s nation and is often glorified in literature. But history is evident that patriotism is not any emblem of glory but indeed is the root cause behind all the war fought and critics interpret it as a political propaganda to deceive people. French author Jules Renard claims that patriotism inevitably results to a destructive war, “At the bottom of all patriotism, there is war: that is why I am no patriot” (136). This paper unmasks the darker side of patriotism with reference to Stephen Crane’s poem “Do not weep maiden, for war is kind”, published in 1899 as an echo to the severity of American Civil War and Wilfred Owen’s poem “Dulce Et Decorum Est” published during nightmare of First World War.
            Crane’s poem is essentially an anti-war poem. By portraying war as “kind”, Crane satirizes the conventional image of romantic war hero and exposes the absurdity of war. The speaker further suggests the maiden who has lost her husband in battlefield, the babe who has lost his father and the mother who has lost her son, not to weep for their loss because of this generosity of war which in reality is mere illusion. We find patriotism as a ruling sentiment to trigger war in the poem. The speaker claims that “Little souls…thirst for fight” (line 6) because of “the unexplained glory” which “flies above them” (line 8). Here, little souls are the personification of war soldiers and they are thirsty for fight in quest of patriotic glory which is illogical and unexplained. The flag flies above them. This suggests that flag(metonymy for government) is omnipotent over soldiers and is flying high above them whereas soldiers fight below on earth as directed by the State and are the one to sacrifice their life. The soldiers are innocent and unaware about the politics of war and are solely concerned on the patriotic glory it will bring to their country. During civil war of America(1961-65), northerners fought southern secessionists who wanted partition from America, for the defense of their pride and glory. The aftermath of the war came as a loss of nearly a million casualties. The achievement of war is nothing but the restoration of pride over the cost of huge massacre. War ends with no avail to the common people, only politicians are to triumph over it.
            Crane’s poem presents gruesome image of battlefield. The lover of the maiden throws his wild hand towards the sky in agony after he was ruthlessly butchered. His horse afraid of the violence scatters away. The father of the child whom the speaker addresses as “babe” (line12) dies by gulping blood and “tumbled in the yellow trenches” (line 13). The yellow trenches symbolize deathbed themselves. Similarly, the son of the mother also faces similar fate. There is no mercy at battlefield. It is not any holy place for preserving a nation’s dignity, but a horrible slaughterhouse for man. Women and children were not allowed to war at that time. The leftovers of war, like maiden, child and mother are also war victim as they are obliged to lead a vulnerable life ahead in departure of their beloved ones. The speaker says that heart of the mother clung on the shroud of her son vigorously like a button. Crying and screaming, she desires to be unified with his body and detests her son to let go. War destroys family and overall it mortifies humanity. As claims twentieth century prominent anarchist Emma Goldman in her essay “Patriotism: A Menace to Liberty”, “Patriotism is inexorable and, like all insatiable monsters, demands all or nothing. It does not admit that a soldier is also a human being, who has a right to his own feelings and opinions, his own inclinations and ideas. No, patriotism cannot admit of that” (106). A country does not care how its soldiers who are fighting for patriotism feel; all they lust for is victory even at the cost of large number of life. In the poem also soldiers die an unworthy death at battlefield. Poet Randel Jarrel further portrays this horror of war in his poem “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner”. The speaker of the poem fights for his country at war and when he dies he says, “they washed me out of the turret with a hose” (line 5). For his Military Force, a turret gun is more important than the pride of soldier. So, to clean it they wipe his flesh clung to the gun with a hose. He is very vulnerable after death by being shot for his country. The materialist state and government have no regard for him.
            Crane portrays war soldiers as, “these men were born to drill and die” (line 19). This statement suggests schooling and obvious fate of soldiers. They are deceived by the politician and military leaders with the notions of glory of war. They are made to believe that patriotism brings pride to them and their country. A country is often referred as motherland or fatherland and citizens are made to take their country as equal of their own mother or father. So, if some other country attacks or insults their own country, it is equal to attacking parents or raping one’s mother. Pro war poetry and patriotic propaganda fill the ears of soldiers. “If I should die, think only this of me/ That there’s some corner of a foreign field/ That is forever England” (Brooke, line 1-3). Due to such overwhelming schooling on patriotism, soldiers are compelled to offer their life in war. But to what avail? That’s hard to answer.
            War poet Wilfred Owen who fought for First World War and was later killed at war further expresses the horror of battlefield in his poem “Dulce Et Decorum Est”. The poet questions the significance of war to the former poem by Horace who suggested dying for one’s country is sweet and glorious. Owen in his poem portrays the pathetic condition of soldiers who were bombarded with gas shells. After being ambushed, they are “bent double, like old beggars under sacks” (line 1). Many of them have lost their boots and are bloodshed. Due to the “green” (line 13) haze of gas they turn lame, blind and deaf. They try to scramble for their protective mask to be safe from the toxic gas, but all of the soldiers are not able to put mask in time. The speaker watches a soldier of his crew who unable to put his mask “plunges” at him “guttering, choking and drowning” (line 16). His white eyes are wriggling in his face and the speaker goes on portraying his face which is miserable like a “devil’s sick of sin” (line 20). The soldier suffers a lot and finally dies helplessly. The speaker points that if anyone saw the brutality of war, no one will sing the glory of war anymore. He adds that the glory of the war is just an old lie. It is worthless to die for so called patriotism.
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori”. (Line 21-28)
Owen totally denounces the propaganda of war by depicting its real consequences which is horrific and merciless. He finds people back at home exaggerating war with disgusting high zest. He strongly recommends them to first comprehend the filthy imagery of battlefield prior to schooling youths of the country with twisted romanticism of war. Critic Goldman also criticizes patriotic propaganda of State to brainwash citizens and push them to tomb. But she claims that though people witness the destruction of war, they do not easily withdraw from the war. The propaganda somehow keeps working on them:
The awful waste that patriotism necessitates ought to be sufficient to cure the man of even average intelligence from this disease. Yet patriotism demands still more. The people are urged to be patriotic and for that luxury they pay, not only by supporting their “defenders,” but even by sacrificing their own children. Patriotism requires allegiance to the flag, which means obedience and readiness to kill father, mother, brother, sister. (102)
This justifies why Owen , an anti-war poet who wrote overwhelming poems against the horror of war in 1917, still continued to fight for the First World War and was killed a year later “in action during British assault on the German held Sambre Canal on the Western Front” (History.com, par. 1). The poet himself was unable to denounce the fabricated glory of war. Despite his provocative anti war poems, he went on fighting by leading a platoon until he was shot. The propaganda of patriotism has been throwing its omnipotent web of deceit to the citizens of any country and is brutally victimizing them.
            Coming back to Crane’s ironic poem, the use of understatement “Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind” (line 1) is sufficient to provoke disillusionment of war among readers. Though the speaker refers war as “kind”, on reading later part of the poem, we come to contemplate the only side of war which is harsh and barbaric. The use of phrase “war is kind” for five times in the poem as refrain is to strengthen the ironical enigma of war. The speaker further digs to the force that drives soldiers to war, “Swift, blazing flag of the regiment/ Eagle with crest of red and gold” (line 17-18). These war soldiers fought for their patriotism. Here, Crane unmasks the disillusionment of patriotism. The flag which is the symbol of country and government has a logo of eagle on it. This eagle(State) which is shining brightly, is real enemy of the soldiers fighting in the battlefield and preys on innocent citizens for fulfilling its apatite of imperial glory. The speaker then ironically recommends the flag to “point for them(new recruits) the virtue(which there is no any) of slaughter/ Make plain to them the excellence of killing/ And a field where a thousand corpses lie” (line 20-22). It means that all the virtues and the excellence of killings inevitably end with a battlefield where a thousand of lives are spared. Thus, patriotism drags us to no utopia, but to a dystopian world of death and turbulence.
            To conclude, Crane ironically unveils the darker side of patriotism in his poem, “Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind” which contributes the world nothing but a field where thousand corpses lie. Similarly, Owen in his poem “Dulce Et Decorum Est” condemns war propagandists who by trivializing real face of war which is bizarre and terrifying, are glorifying hollowness of war as if fighting for one’s country is the biggest virtue. Both the poems denounce horror of patriotism and its consequences. Patriotism and War both converge to the same point­­­­­­­­­­: devastation of life and resources. Patriotism is a mere tool for prurient politicians to trick common people to fight in war for their own political benefit. Soldiers sacrifice their life in battlefield and bring catastrophe to their family, all for the sake of “old lie”, patriotism.

Works Cited
Brooke, Rupert. “The Soldier”. Norton Anthology of Poetry. Ferguson, Margaret, et al. 5th ed.
New York & London, Norton, 2005. 1327. Print.
Crane, Stephen. “Do Not Weep, Maiden, For War is Kind”. Norton Anthology of Poetry.
Ferguson, Margaret, et al. 5th ed. New York & London, Norton, 2005.1221. Print.
Goldman, Emma. Anarchism and Other Essays. New York: Dover Publication, 1968. Print.
History.com Staff. “Poet Wilfred Owen Killed in Action”. History.com. 7th August, 2016.
Web. <http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/poet-wilfred-owen-killed-in-action>
Jarrell, Randall. “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner”. Norton Anthology of Poetry.
Ferguson, Margaret, et al. 5th ed. New York & London, Norton, 2005. 1553. Print.
Owen, Wilfred. “Dulce et Decorum Est”. Norton Anthology of Poetry. Ferguson, Margaret, et
al. 5th ed. New York & London, Norton, 2005.1221. 1387. Print.

Renard, Jules.The Journal of Jules Renard. New York: Tin House Book, 2008. Web.
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About Anup Joshi TV

Anup Joshi is an emerging young writer searching for space in Nepali literature. He writes poems, stories and lyrics for songs. As a student of English literature he loves reading books. He is also a passionate photographer and enjoys travelling.
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